Friday, June 13, 2014

When is performance practice?

When is performance practice? Is it modern? Is it postmodern? A cellist playing a modern piece, by a modern composer, and on a modern cello has a performance practice with a variety of different ideas than playing Bach on a modern cello or playing Bach on a baroque cello.

So what is postmodern performance practice? Today Natalia discussed the idea of postmodern choreography versus modern choreography. She explained that postmodern ideas center around the relationship of physiological responses in the performer, opposed to modernists ideas of conveying a narrative to an onlooker.

As a Classical musician, I have been trained to hide my own physiological responses, because they often conflict with the mood, character or atmosphere that the composer is attempting to dictate through the music. For example, in “Aria No. 10^10” in some opera by a Classical Period composer, there exists a beautiful aria with some soprano. The mood is relaxed and reflective. After playing for nine hours before this aria, my body is anything but relaxed and reflective, yet I must convey this feeling—I must show the narrative.

Postmodern performance practice begins with the body, then adds the instrument. Not the other way around. The type of physical actions required to make sounds are more important than the sounds themselves. Ken pointed out a few pieces of cello that center around this idea. Christopher Tye’s “Dum Transisset” is an example of a piece that reflects an emphasis on the finding new ways to understanding musical content through a deeper understanding of the physical act of playing the cello. An interesting question is how much knowledge a non-cellist must possess to understand the artistic intent of the composer or the beauty thus created?

Baroque performance practice centers on the idea that the correct gesture will render the appropriate sound, and although modern cello, for example, is taught atomistically, the technique is always secondary to the sound idea, opposite the idea in baroque performance practice. So both postmodern and baroque performance practice begin with physiological sensation, and they both assume that the correct sound ideal will be rendered by such.

When Ken and I improvise, we are thinking the realm of the sound ideal: Controlling harmony, melody, and rhythm are paramount. However we physically create the sounds doesn't matter. But how can we explore musical improvisation with a postmodern dancer? Instead of us creating a sound world for Natalia's movement, how can she create a physical world for our sound?

There are many challenges for this, because the language of music, created by our collective sound ideal, prohibits a direct connection between the physical motions she renders and the gestures Ken and I make in response. Is there a way tech can help? Are there rules we can discover to ameliorate this process? If musicians only think about the physical motion required to play, how can they control melody, harmony, and rhythm in a way that conforms to our sound ideal?

And finally, why is it that dance and movement, to me personally, seem so much freer than music does? I enjoy experiencing, as an outside participate, postmodern dance so much more than postmodern music and improvisation. And this is because I have an expectation of an inherited sound ideal, which I perhaps lack in dance, because I have no formal training in dance.

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